Oh, no, not the “real” Jesus again!

Vimalakirti

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Hi y’all.

Recently I started reading the New Testament in Spanish as part of my continuing sporadic efforts to improve myself in that language. And it worked well for a while. Being in a second language allowed me a certain distance from the text. But eventually I couldn’t help but be drawn once again into the question of who Jesus “really” was and what he was “really” saying. Of course one’s views on the topic tend to evolve over time, at least they do with me. So here’s the latest of my feeble thoughts. I beg your forgiveness in advance.

First of all, I’ve come to feel that everyone who tries to locate Jesus in one gospel or another, one voice or another is bound to fail. First of all, the composite nature of the texts means that relevant material is scattered throughout the various books. While various scholars will have their reasons for choosing one book or another as more “authentic”, in the end it comes down to individual predilection and to localize authenticity in one book or one voice is to leave out an awful lot of interest.

Similarly, I’ve come to feel that one also has to resist choosing between Jesus and Paul, which is a common tendency. Some believe that Jesus was really more like John the Baptist, a one-dimensional character, and that all the interesting stuff was inserted under the influence of Paul. Others, probably the majority who take a side, contend that Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary whose message was highjacked by a Machiavellian Paul. This latter view I confess to having once shared, more or less. Again, to take sides is simply to leave out too much.

So I agree with the orthodox to that extent – that we have to take into account all the words of New Testament. I differ in adding into the mix some of the non-canonical writings, especially the Gospel of Thomas, and also in my conclusions.

In a nutshell: I’ve come to think that the difficulty as well as the enduring fascination of the New Testament writings derives from their having two centers of gravity. On the one hand, we have the mystical, savior Jesus, who comes, as Paul says, to correct the error of Adam; on the other hand we have Jesus as messiah, who comes to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. This contrast is neatly summed up in the contrasting genealogies we find in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, the so-called Jewish gospel, the genealogy goes back to Abraham. In Luke, the so-called gospel for the gentiles, it goes back to Adam.

It seems to me that the New Testament writings are organized around these two centers, and that historically the forms of Christianity have arisen from how individual sects and believers privilege these contrasting centers of gravity.

Of course the question arises whether these two centers are really in conflict. The orthodox would say no, that they are really just two aspects of a complex message. They would say that the original creeds and dogmas show how these aspects are harmonized. Some liberal Christians and many interested outsiders like myself would disagree.

Here I think the meaning of the crucifixion is key. The resurrection may be the bedrock of orthodox belief but its ultimate sense really depends on what we think happened on the cross.

From the non-dual point of view, which is my perspective, the crucifixion is a powerful symbol of the unity of man and God. It’s the selflessness of God emptying himself into man reciprocated by the selflessness of man emptying himself into God. If the error of Adam was to fall into divided consciousness, then redemption is the undivided consciousness of Christ.

This view is compatible with most “mystical” (a much-abused term) traditions, not just Indian but also Neo-Platonic. Some Christian theologians have tried to develop similar notions through the concept of “kenosis”, emptying out, whose privileged text is Phil. 2:7. But as I understand it the effort has not been terribly successful, and here I think you see on display the tension between the two scriptural centers.

For kenotic theology quickly becomes tortuous, beset with logical difficulties (how can God empty into man since that would indicate change and God can’t change, etc.). But I think these difficulties are far less about logic as such, or even about a literalism as to the nature of God than about what underlies both the literalism and the logic: the core idea of Abrahamic monotheism as well as the messianic center of the New Testament writings, the rulership of god.

The rulership of God vastly complicates the meaning of the crucifixion. The non-dual meaning is mysterious enough, but that rests on a pretty straightforward intuition (or faith if you prefer) of or in the essential unity of reality. Under the rulership of God that unity must be articulated so that God remains definitively in charge. Where a non-dual interpretation would see Jesus as representative of how we can all through utter selflessness attain unity with God and in that sense become, like Jesus, God, the Christian creed is anxious to avoid ambiguity. Christ becomes the privileged crossing point of man and God. We become one with God only through secondhand participation in the body of Christ. Ironically, this effort to avoid ambiguity only creates more. Even the texts seem uncertain and undermine the attempt at clarity. (Why is Adam called a Son of God? For that matter what does Son of God really mean? What does son of man really mean? Here is a centuries-old make-work project for scholars.)

Again I submit that this anxiety arises out of an ideological not a theological imperative. In other words, the complexities of the trinity are not really a question of theology, and not even particularly mysterious, beyond the fundamental mystery of non-duality.

If you look at some classic Indian texts (Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads) you will see – if you read carefully – that they’re fully aware that to “be God” is not to be a rival to the universe or its ruler. They don’t have that anxiety (no doubt they have others) because their core idea is not “rulership of God” but “that thou art”.

Anyway, I’m such a windbag that this is as brief as I can be. Finally, I would only say that what I’ve set out here I’m sure is hardly original. There’s nothing new here I admit. And it doesn’t simplify things. If these two centers do in fact exist there have been and are many solutions to how they are balanced or enacted. I would only say that from an outside perspective only the non-dual Jesus is truly universal. And – again this is just one person’s opinion – I think that Christians are at their best when that side of their faith predominates, when they are interested far less in conversions to an ideology than in encouraging the practice of selfless love wherever they find it.
 

Thomas

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Hi Vimalakirti

On the one hand, we have the mystical, savior Jesus, who comes, as Paul says, to correct the error of Adam; on the other hand we have Jesus as messiah, who comes to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham.
May I then introduce a third Jesus, the Bridegroom, who comes to bring humanity into Mystical Union with the Divine? This is the Jesus of the whole text, through and through.

This is the Union, set as a Nuptial Mystery, is the union of that which is (all creation) with that which is not (that which transcends all formal and formless manifestation); it is the Union of that which is (God as the only self-subsisting actuality) with that which is not (all creation is utterly dependent upon God for its being, its existence and its continuity).

I would further suggest the Christian Community was organised around the Liturgy, and the Mystery of the Liturgy focusses on the Mystery of the Word. The Word of the New Teastament was the product of a Liturgical community. The New Testament, separated from the Liturgy, becomes history.

From the non-dual point of view, which is my perspective, the crucifixion is a powerful symbol of the unity of man and God. It’s the selflessness of God emptying himself into man reciprocated by the selflessness of man emptying himself into God. If the error of Adam was to fall into divided consciousness, then redemption is the undivided consciousness of Christ.
Not really. The Crucifixion is a powerful symbol of God's love for His creature, that he takes His creature's sin upon Himself, and perfects His creature by so doing. The Orthodox, on the other hand, accuse us of making too much of the Cross, and not enough of the Resurrection.

God took on a human nature, but remains God — Jesus Christ, incarnate as man and who was born of the Virgin, walked and talked, was crucified and died, resurrected and ascended, in an historical or rather a spatiotemporal reality — but Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is aeternal, always was, is, and always will be, and was not absent from the Trinity whilst Incarnate upon earth...

The Cross was, before the world was made.

... (how can God empty into man since that would indicate change and God can’t change, etc.).
I think you may have misread things here ... God does not empty Himself into man.

The rulership of God vastly complicates the meaning of the crucifixion.
Interestingly you have touched on a theological issues which I am exploring at the moment. This 'rulership' idea is in one sense idolatrous, for it renders God as a sort of absolute monarch ... so God is defined as a king, in every perfect sense, but God is still being defined according to a human idea — rulership — this is an issue between apophatic and cataphatic theology. Any presentation of God, such as shield, hope, shepherd, etc, is idolatrous in that it represents God according to a human concept, it is a mode of anthropomorphism ...

... but equally to render God as Ineffible, Absolute, Infinite, First Cause, is equally a form of philosophical idolatry.

Under the rulership of God that unity must be articulated so that God remains definitively in charge.
But this is not the Mystery of the Cross nor the Good News of the Gospels. The message is one of Love, not monarchy.

Where a non-dual interpretation would see Jesus as representative of how we can all through utter selflessness attain unity with God
But that's the point, isn't it? We can't ... if we could, then Divine Union would simply depend upon technical efficiency.

We become one with God only through secondhand participation in the body of Christ.
To participate in Christ is to participate in the Holy Trinity ... there is nothing secondhand about it. We cannot participate in God 'at first hand' how can we? What is there to participate in? Here we look to a Denys (or an Eriugena) or an Eckhart or a Cusanus ...

If Divine Union, if participation, is possible, and actual, it must 'exist' within the Godhead as a principle, prior to creation — therefore the idea of multiplicity must exist in the Godhead which is One ... and it can, as long as we don't make the error of reading that 'One' as a numerical or quantitative distinction, it isn't, and cannot be. This is precisely what the Doctrine of the Trinity does.

Without Trinity, there is no hope of salvation, of Divine union, of knowing God at all...

If you look at some classic Indian texts (Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads) you will see – if you read carefully – that they’re fully aware that to “be God” is not to be a rival to the universe or its ruler. They don’t have that anxiety (no doubt they have others) because their core idea is not “rulership of God” but “that thou art”.
And a close reading of Scripture asserts the same. The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not God because He is King, but God because He is, and not only that He is, but that He is, intimately, to the history of the people of Israel.

Thomas
 

Amergin

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1. First, who was the real person, Jesus? The evidence for Jesus is so tenuous as to raise doubts. Why is Jesus not mentioned by the ruling Roman Bureaucrats? It means the gospel writers a century later simply were confused about the name of a man who resembled Jesus. I have read and heard from the Naked Archaeologist that several different men could have given parts of the Jesus legend.

2. John the Baptist is one candidate. Many followed him as a messiah. Today his followers still exist in Iraq and Syria as Mandaeans. His death could have led to competition of several would be saviours.

3. Honi HaM'agel (? Khoni, or Honi, HaMe'agel, Hebrew for Honi the Circle-drawer). He was a First century BCE) Jewish scholar, a spiritual leader who could call upon God to deliver rain, and healed the sick.

3, Yeshua Ben Pacheria, lived a hundred years before the time of the legendary Jesus. He (in the Talmud) was the son of Miriam of Magdala. He studied sorcery in Egypt. He came back to Israel where he cured the sick and performed miracles. However, the Jewish Priesthood convicted him of sorcery and stoned him to death. Then they hung his body on a tree to further shame him. His followers were still in Palestine when the Romans entered Jerusalem His name was equivalent of Latin Jesus. His being hung on a tree has some symbolism of nailed to the cross.

4. Hanina Ben Dosa (1st century, CE) was a tanna (rabbi) and miracle worker around the time of the legendary Jesus. He reportedly made many of the moral preachings and parables later attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writers.

I think the Jesus of Christian beliefs was a composite of those miracle workers. This was consistent to the early Jesus followers before the Paganisation of Jesus in Christianity as a god.

The Divinity Myth suggests a strong resemblance to Mithras or Mithras who was a created god, son of the High God Aura Mazda. Mithra was born from either a rock or impregnation of a virgin by Ahura Mazda (the Roman Cult). Mithra was a god and a man, miracle worker who was slain but rose from the dead three days later. Mithraists introduced baptism, Eucharistic meal, and "saving grace" to the new Roman Religion of Jesus.

There were about 16 (Kersey Graves) other saviours before Jesus but sharing many characteristics (virgin birth, slain, and resurrection.)

In summary, there are two different Jesus'. There is the human Jewish Jesus whatever name he really had. He preached morality and reform. Whether he was crucified or not is highly disputable.

The other Jesus is the Christ, a divine being fathered by a God and a virgin born. Most of his story seems to be plagiarism of Mithra.

Read Massey's book of Lectures on the "Historical Jesus and the Mythological Christ."

Amergin
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Hi y’all.

Recently I started reading the New Testament in Spanish as part of my continuing sporadic efforts to improve myself in that language. And it worked well for a while. Being in a second language allowed me a certain distance from the text. But eventually I couldn’t help but be drawn once again into the question of who Jesus “really” was and what he was “really” saying. Of course one’s views on the topic tend to evolve over time, at least they do with me. So here’s the latest of my feeble thoughts. I beg your forgiveness in advance.

First of all, I’ve come to feel that everyone who tries to locate Jesus in one gospel or another, one voice or another is bound to fail. First of all, the composite nature of the texts means that relevant material is scattered throughout the various books. While various scholars will have their reasons for choosing one book or another as more “authentic”, in the end it comes down to individual predilection and to localize authenticity in one book or one voice is to leave out an awful lot of interest.

Similarly, I’ve come to feel that one also has to resist choosing between Jesus and Paul, which is a common tendency. Some believe that Jesus was really more like John the Baptist, a one-dimensional character, and that all the interesting stuff was inserted under the influence of Paul. Others, probably the majority who take a side, contend that Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary whose message was highjacked by a Machiavellian Paul. This latter view I confess to having once shared, more or less. Again, to take sides is simply to leave out too much.

So I agree with the orthodox to that extent – that we have to take into account all the words of New Testament. I differ in adding into the mix some of the non-canonical writings, especially the Gospel of Thomas, and also in my conclusions.

In a nutshell: I’ve come to think that the difficulty as well as the enduring fascination of the New Testament writings derives from their having two centers of gravity. On the one hand, we have the mystical, savior Jesus, who comes, as Paul says, to correct the error of Adam; on the other hand we have Jesus as messiah, who comes to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. This contrast is neatly summed up in the contrasting genealogies we find in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, the so-called Jewish gospel, the genealogy goes back to Abraham. In Luke, the so-called gospel for the gentiles, it goes back to Adam.

It seems to me that the New Testament writings are organized around these two centers, and that historically the forms of Christianity have arisen from how individual sects and believers privilege these contrasting centers of gravity.

Of course the question arises whether these two centers are really in conflict. The orthodox would say no, that they are really just two aspects of a complex message. They would say that the original creeds and dogmas show how these aspects are harmonized. Some liberal Christians and many interested outsiders like myself would disagree.

Here I think the meaning of the crucifixion is key. The resurrection may be the bedrock of orthodox belief but its ultimate sense really depends on what we think happened on the cross.

From the non-dual point of view, which is my perspective, the crucifixion is a powerful symbol of the unity of man and God. It’s the selflessness of God emptying himself into man reciprocated by the selflessness of man emptying himself into God. If the error of Adam was to fall into divided consciousness, then redemption is the undivided consciousness of Christ.

This view is compatible with most “mystical” (a much-abused term) traditions, not just Indian but also Neo-Platonic. Some Christian theologians have tried to develop similar notions through the concept of “kenosis”, emptying out, whose privileged text is Phil. 2:7. But as I understand it the effort has not been terribly successful, and here I think you see on display the tension between the two scriptural centers.

For kenotic theology quickly becomes tortuous, beset with logical difficulties (how can God empty into man since that would indicate change and God can’t change, etc.). But I think these difficulties are far less about logic as such, or even about a literalism as to the nature of God than about what underlies both the literalism and the logic: the core idea of Abrahamic monotheism as well as the messianic center of the New Testament writings, the rulership of god.

The rulership of God vastly complicates the meaning of the crucifixion. The non-dual meaning is mysterious enough, but that rests on a pretty straightforward intuition (or faith if you prefer) of or in the essential unity of reality. Under the rulership of God that unity must be articulated so that God remains definitively in charge. Where a non-dual interpretation would see Jesus as representative of how we can all through utter selflessness attain unity with God and in that sense become, like Jesus, God, the Christian creed is anxious to avoid ambiguity. Christ becomes the privileged crossing point of man and God. We become one with God only through secondhand participation in the body of Christ. Ironically, this effort to avoid ambiguity only creates more. Even the texts seem uncertain and undermine the attempt at clarity. (Why is Adam called a Son of God? For that matter what does Son of God really mean? What does son of man really mean? Here is a centuries-old make-work project for scholars.)

Again I submit that this anxiety arises out of an ideological not a theological imperative. In other words, the complexities of the trinity are not really a question of theology, and not even particularly mysterious, beyond the fundamental mystery of non-duality.

If you look at some classic Indian texts (Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads) you will see – if you read carefully – that they’re fully aware that to “be God” is not to be a rival to the universe or its ruler. They don’t have that anxiety (no doubt they have others) because their core idea is not “rulership of God” but “that thou art”.

Anyway, I’m such a windbag that this is as brief as I can be. Finally, I would only say that what I’ve set out here I’m sure is hardly original. There’s nothing new here I admit. And it doesn’t simplify things. If these two centers do in fact exist there have been and are many solutions to how they are balanced or enacted. I would only say that from an outside perspective only the non-dual Jesus is truly universal. And – again this is just one person’s opinion – I think that Christians are at their best when that side of their faith predominates, when they are interested far less in conversions to an ideology than in encouraging the practice of selfless love wherever they find it.


You will never know what Jesus said by reading the Bible. You need to have him teach you everything from within your heart, mind and soul, but only if you're willing to listen to the gospel, which is the voice of God.
 

Vimalakirti

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Hi Vimalakirti
May I then introduce a third Jesus, the Bridegroom, who comes to bring humanity into Mystical Union with the Divine? This is the Jesus of the whole text, through and through.

This is the Union, set as a Nuptial Mystery, is the union of that which is (all creation) with that which is not (that which transcends all formal and formless manifestation); it is the Union of that which is (God as the only self-subsisting actuality) with that which is not (all creation is utterly dependent upon God for its being, its existence and its continuity).

I would further suggest the Christian Community was organised around the Liturgy, and the Mystery of the Liturgy focusses on the Mystery of the Word. The Word of the New Teastament was the product of a Liturgical community. The New Testament, separated from the Liturgy, becomes history.

Hi Thomas.

Thanks very much for your interesting comments & explications. I’d like to respond with several related points.

First, I’m very sympathetic to your interpretation of the gospel message. Some of the language you use is fairly indistinguishable from that of non-duality, though firmly placed within the context of your Christian beliefs. Though I understand you probably do not subscribe to my “two centers of gravity” supposition – I think you rather see this as a conflict between deep as against superficial reading of scripture – you effect the kind of resolution I would generally agree with, were I a Christian.

Second, I want to be careful to distinguish strictly logical questions, questions to “argue” from underlying assumptions and, more importantly, underlying fundamental mental dispositions. Without that transparency these kinds of discussions can be kind of futile and even a little depressing.

Right away of course I can imagine the “relativistic” alarm bell going off in your head. Is everyone licensed to believe whatever they feel in their gut? All I can do is bring in the old Upanishadic phrase I’m sure you’ve heard a hundred times before: the truth is one; the sages call it by many names. This is maybe the oldest but still the simplest and best definition of pluralism I know.

Of course in the wrong hands this can be a slippery & lazy notion. But notice that just as much as Christianity this phrase carefully maintains that there is in fact only one truth, one reality. It doesn’t claim that truth is relative, which I think we would both agree is a self-contradictory & futile position. It only denies that there is a single conceptual/historical framework for the elaboration of that one truth, a single human formulation, a single avatar of God.

Sure, for Abrahamic religion that’s a pretty big “only”. But why insist on the difference, when at the deepest level, as you’ve shown above, there’s so much commonality? When in your apophatic approach God as absolute is just as inconceivable as Nirguna Brahman or even the Sunyata of the Buddhists? I grant that Brahman, Sunyata, the apophatic God, En Sof are not equivalent terms, in that they are embedded in different conceptual systems, and so can be contrasted and compared from various angles. One can even make value judgments about their contrasting psychological, social, philosophical or soteriological values in terms of their competing systems. But in terms of what they refer to (or more properly are markers for) reality as ultimate and inconceivable I believe they are equivalent. Can there really be more than one sort of ultimate inconceivability? Again I would suggest that the problem is far less theological than ideological. (I hear your internal groan. But indulge me. I swear I’ve mellowed!)

(continued below)
 

Vimalakirti

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(continued from above)

Let me set up what I think is a common sense division of religion into three spheres of concern:
  • The ritual, rational, quotidian, the sphere of pre-scientific and the root of scientific thought, the sphere of conventional ideology. Examples: the ritual portions of the Vedas and Torah, the sacrificial rites of ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Indians. The sphere of tit for tat, bargaining, deal making with non-human forces.
  • The radical, prophetic, the sphere of radical ideology, millenarism, apocalyptic thought. Examples: pre-eminently the domain of the Abrahamic faiths, key notion the absolute rulership of God. This is much more weakly developed in Indian religion, hence a fundamental if broad distinction between the two traditions. One clear example I know of from the Gita: Arjuna is urged to fight despite the fact that war against his relations will overturn the sacred social order, disrupt offerings to the ancestors, etc. In the Indian context it’s a question of the higher Dharma, of ultimate right over ritual, as Krishna effectively explains. Periodically evil becomes so predominant in the world (here in the form of the Kauravas) that God must intervene – obviously this is a kind of apocalypse but in the Indian context also part of some vast cycle and replete with many ambiguities and reluctance on the part of the heroes, sort of Greek tragedy & medieval sword & sorcery fused with a kind of biblical war between good & evil.
  • The sphere of ultimate meanings. Of course this is the sphere of philosophy, theology, mysticism, in Indian terms Jnana Yoga, but it doesn’t need to be so high-toned & intellectual. It can include straightforward intuitions & states of relationships. The personal relationship that Path of One among many others talks about with Jesus. Beyond all the ritual practices & ideology what does religion really add up to? What does it mean in terms of concrete experience?


With such a rough summary it’s easy to see the contrasts between the Abrahamic and Indian traditions. Thus in India we have the stubborn persistence of the cast system at level 1 coupled with an extraordinarily varied & complex mystical tradition at level 3, with level 2 relatively weak, at least before modern times and the influences of the Abrahamic faiths. While Abrahamic faiths have also had strong & important mystical traditions at level 3, there’s little doubt that historically these have been dominated by the ideological drives of level 2. In the same way, this powerful level 2 has historically made level 1 relatively weaker than in India. On a graph with the levels 1, 2, 3 running left to right on the horizontal axis and relative strength on the vertical, Abrahamic religion would resemble a bell curve, the religions of India an inverted bell.

So certainly the cultural assumptions & strong ideological drives that result make it extraordinarily difficult for anyone brought up in an Abrahamic faith to see the elements of their faith as equivalent to any other or to recognize that God has other names or histories.

So much for underlying assumptions. As for mental dispositions, again I won’t be arguing for a kind of relativism, but only set out what I think many people have observed, that on questions of ultimate meaning each of us is fundamentally disposed in a certain direction. And these fundamental dispositions are probably few in number. I’ll mention three: that toward renunciation, that toward non-duality, the sense of the ultimate unity of things, and that toward duality, the idea that there must be another level of reality, that some(one) must be in charge, must be the designer, must have set things in motion, etc.

Now as I’ve already made clear my fundamental disposition is toward non-duality. While I believe the universe is both intelligent and personal. I believe that intelligence is in its very structure and in the fact that it produces intelligent beings, and that it’s personal in the fact that it produces persons. A further level of being above and beyond that somehow explains this extraordinary state of affairs has never really made any sense to me and has always seemed to me unnecessary, except as compelling metaphor and convenient way of speaking. (Certainly there is more than one angle from which to view this universe. There’s the conventional and the ultimate of Nargarjuna and parallel expressions in Shankara, the levels of being of Plotinus, etc. The universe is conceivable in its workings, inconceivable in its totality, but whatever markers we put in place point to one thing, or as some prefer one k(no)w thing.)

But I’ve also learned that many people have the equally strong belief in a God standing over & above creation, the feeling that ultimately someone must be in charge, and that someone must be a kind of person, if a person ultimately inconceivable. That our concepts, our morality, the existence & design of the universe itself must have an external origin, that all around use we see nothing but contingent beings, one thing dependent on the next so that logically there must be at least one non-contingent being who starts everything off and keeps things going.

Both these positions can martial arguments. But both these positions can be shown to be ultimately without solid rational proof. They are rooted in belief or intuition. We may argue them out of various motives – stubbornness, attempts at conversion, perversity, the thrill of competition – but we can’t expect any true resolution to the question so long as we remain true to who we are.

But to return to the beginning there is a commonality. We inhabit the same reality and are in a sense looking at the same data. It’s just that we frame & flavor the different levels of being – non-duality, duality, plurality – according to our fundamental dispositions. We meet in expressions of the non-dual or if you prefer the mystery of events/symbols like the crucifixion.

You know after starting this thread I ran across another thread where the debate was over the necessity for Christians of the resurrection. As always, you were very impressive in marshaling your points, and I was once again impressed by the passion you and others display for your beliefs. I have to respect their authenticity.

But you’re also fairly unique in these forums in the way you draw so deeply on Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman culture (forgive all the hyphens, but I really think all these elements should be there). I think you make a point of defending this heritage against what you see as relativism, new age fuzziness, etc. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. As I said above re the idea of “inconceivability” I’m not against making valid comparisons of specific expressions of perennial religious ideas in terms of their useful effects at whatever level. That’s where religions can and have learned from each other through a healthy competition. Christianity has much to be proud of and much it can still teach others, particularly on the side of social engagement. I’m only against the claim to special or proprietary truth, which I see as both illusory and unsustainable, and which is so deeply embedded in the activist, ideological core of Christianity that many Christians can’t see it.

Vimalakirti
 

Vimalakirti

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In summary, there are two different Jesus'. There is the human Jewish Jesus whatever name he really had. He preached morality and reform. Whether he was crucified or not is highly disputable.

The other Jesus is the Christ, a divine being fathered by a God and a virgin born. Most of his story seems to be plagiarism of Mithra.

Read Massey's book of Lectures on the "Historical Jesus and the Mythological Christ."

Amergin
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Hi Amergin.

I agree that the origins of nearly every word in the New Testament are uncertain, but as I suggested above I'm very skeptical of the possibility of recovering an historical Jesus behind the text.

Beyond that, the only Jesus that really counts is the Jesus of the texts, however complex or even contradictory a picture those texts present. It's that Jesus and what people said about him that has helped shape Western history. The various versions of the historical Jesus exist only in theory.

Now if I were a Christian I might feel a little differently. To have a personal relationship with Jesus I think I might want to have a more concrete notion of who he was and might feel the responsability to sift through the various accounts and form my own opinion.

So I guess it depends on one's situation. But I would add the caution that once one enters on this enterprise one should go at it seriously; that is, go to the best, most comprehensive reconstructions of the life of Jesus and taken from all sides - the Jesus Semnar, Marcus Borg but also N.T. Wright, et al. (There's also a recent multi-volume life of Jesus by a Catholic author which has gained some attention; perhaps Thomas could help you there.) I'm not an expert by any means, but the sources you cite don't seem all that impressive or very up-to-date and some of your speculations are far too simple. All the factors you allude to were no doubt present. There certainly were other Jesus type or John the Baptist type figures around. But to set out and properly evaluate all the influences on the gospel writers and Paul I think is a far more complex enterprise.

Vimalakirti
 

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You will never know what Jesus said by reading the Bible. You need to have him teach you everything from within your heart, mind and soul, but only if you're willing to listen to the gospel, which is the voice of God.

To the extent I understand you I would probably put it all in different words. But that would be a waste of breath, since I have nothing to say against the ideas you're expressing here.

Cheers,
Vimalakirti
 

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To the extent I understand you I would probably put it all in different words. But that would be a waste of breath, since I have nothing to say against the ideas you're expressing here.

Cheers,
Vimalakirti

Once you have the knowledge of God within you, then you can write or speak the words God gives you. They will be different than mine or any of the other saints but we'll be speaking the same exact truth.
 

Thomas

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Hi Vimalakriti —

First, I’m very sympathetic to your interpretation of the gospel message. Some of the language you use is fairly indistinguishable from that of non-duality, though firmly placed within the context of your Christian beliefs. Though I understand you probably do not subscribe to my “two centers of gravity” supposition – I think you rather see this as a conflict between deep as against superficial reading of scripture – you effect the kind of resolution I would generally agree with, were I a Christian.
Christianity is ultimately the religion of non-duality in the absolute sense — think of Eckhart! But again, in approaching absolutes, there are bound to be lines of convergence.

It only denies that there is a single conceptual/historical framework for the elaboration of that one truth, a single human formulation, a single avatar of God.
I think rather the point is, find a conceptual/historical framework and cleave to it ... I do not agree necessarily that any one is dependent on or informs any other, nor that all frameworks are equal, nor that there is an ideal amalgam of multiple frameworks ... each framework is absolute in itself to attain that of which it speaks ... but do all speak of the same thing? I don't think so.

When in your apophatic approach God as absolute is just as inconceivable as Nirguna Brahman or even the Sunyata of the Buddhists?
Indeed, and I've just been reading an essay on the difference between the apophatic expression, and atheism — in that many atheists could be designated apophatic thinkers. Derida struggled with this, apparently.

So I suggest that there are similarities of linguistic expression between the trafition, but the meanings carried in terms might be at varience.

The difference as I see it is not what it says about the Divine, but what is says about human nature in relation to the divine.

I do think there are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between the traditions with regard to the end state of man, and the end state of the cosmos as such.

Christianity embraces everything within itself, and brings everything into the Divine Life, where it seems to me that other religions tend to leave elements out — the Platonic flight of the alone to the Alone is contrary to the Christian idea of communion for example, and the Christian insistence on the Resurrection of the physical and corporeal body stands on the principle that the created cosmos is not some staging post that is abandoned when one takes the next step, as it were.

Everything exists for the glory of God. One can argue (traditionally, as I would) that some things glorify God more than others, and do so by participation more than others, thus man glorifies God more than animals, etc., but the point is that everything, in its own way, glorifies God, and therefore has its place in God and participates in the Real, the True, etc.

So everything is real, and everything is unreal, depending upon where one stands. But to read Eckhart as espousing Zen for example, as many do, is to read Eckhart with absolutely no reference to where he located his ideas, and so misread him entirely, and falls short of what he is alluding to. It's just reading stuff to affirm one's own presuppositions, rather than reading to discover what is being said.

Nor is Eckhart unique, it's just he's the one that has become popular, hip and cool. One of my favourites is Catherine of Siena's "I am He Who Is, you are she who is not" ... and of course Denys the pseudoAreopagite who started the whole thing ... or perhaps Gregory of Nyssa ... Again, the Cloud of Unknowing is a work of Christian apophatism, but has become, in the hands of some misguided monastic souls, a travesty of itself when inverted to be read as a guide to 'centering prayer' ... this is what happens when people read texts with no mind to the mind and the milleau in which the text was written.

key notion the absolute rulership of God.
Not in Christianity, the key notion is love, which transcends the law. Christ taught his discioples to pray to Abba, one's father, not to one's king.

Beyond all the ritual practices & ideology what does religion really add up to? What does it mean in terms of concrete experience?
Depends on the religion, for as i said, I do not see all religions as equal.

What Christianity means in concrete experience is participation in the internal life of the Truine Godhead.

While I believe the universe is both intelligent and personal. I believe that intelligence is in its very structure and in the fact that it produces intelligent beings, and that it’s personal in the fact that it produces persons.
But then is 'intelligence' and 'person' just a byproduct of the process (as some argue) ... a side-effect, as it were?

The question is, if not, why does it produce intelligence and person-hood, and if this is not a random event with no intrinsic meaning beyond itself, then does the univwerse possess a rational and self-reflective nature? And if the universe does possess a rational and self-reflective nature, which it realises in what it effects, then that must stand beyond what it effects, and what is effected is done so according to a rational end.

A further level of being above and beyond that somehow explains this extraordinary state of affairs has never really made any sense to me and has always seemed to me unnecessary, except as compelling metaphor and convenient way of speaking.
It is a solution to the problem of contingency and of being as such. A self-causative universe does not really make sense to me.

I’m only against the claim to special or proprietary truth, which I see as both illusory and unsustainable, and which is so deeply embedded in the activist, ideological core of Christianity that many Christians can’t see it.
In my view it's not so much a claim to propprietary truth, but rather a claim to pursue the meaning of truth to its ultimate limits. As some Christian metaphysicians have put it, if the many religions are like the raidal points of a circle, then Christianity stands at the hub of the wheel.

What I see mostly (and not necessarily in your own thought) resents that claim, by any tradition, is the claim is disputed on the grounds of a late-modern romantic notion of egalitarianism.

Thomas
 

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but as I suggested above I'm very skeptical of the possibility of recovering an historical Jesus behind the text.
Any Jesus can and will only ewver be the Jesus of one's preconceptions.

Beyond that, the only Jesus that really counts is the Jesus of the texts, however complex or even contradictory a picture those texts present.
Well said. Schweitzer famously followed the pursuit of the 'historical Jesus', saw the essentially fallacy of the pursuit, and gave it all up to pursue the message of the text ... love thy neighbour.

Who are these people who identify the texts as complex or contradictory? For two millennia now, those texts have sustained the believer, and have brought remarkable fruits to the lives even of the most simple minded.

It seems to me it's the ones who don't do the text who find it problematic, and does it ever occur to them that maybe the problem is theirs?

To have a personal relationship with Jesus I think I might want to have a more concrete notion of who he was and might feel the responsibility to sift through the various accounts and form my own opinion.
I think the evidence suggests that this way leads to a personal relationship with one's own invention of who Jesus is. Again I point to the saints and sages down through the ages, who saw Jesus shining luminously from His word without having to sift and speculate.

that is, go to the best, most comprehensive reconstructions of the life of Jesus and taken from all sides - the Jesus Semnar,
Oh ho! I wouldn't waste too mch time up that blind alley. The JS represents neither the best nor most comprehensive, and the most subjective methodology ever posing as scientific process.

N.T. Wright
Now you're talking. His work on Paul is, I think, stark and original addition to the corpus.

(There's also a recent multi-volume life of Jesus by a Catholic author which has gained some attention; perhaps Thomas could help you there.)
Benedict XVI/Ratzinger?
 

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Christianity is ultimately the religion of non-duality in the absolute sense

How, in any sense, is Christianity a religion of non-duality? If God created the universe, is that not the most fundamental duality? :confused:

s.
 

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Because that duality is resolved in Divine Union ... I would go so far as to say the inherent duality is, and can only be resolved, in Trinity.

Without the Doctrine of the Trinity, which is the Mystery of Relation and the paradigm and principle of union, any thought of 'divine union' is out of the question. Union has to exist in the Godhead, before it can be possible with the Godhead.

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Hi Snoopy —

Divine Union is about relation. It's the joining of two things, and moreover its the joining of two things that continue to be two things. If the two become one, there is no longer a union, you can't have a union of one ... so each must continue as they are, if a union is to be.

(The mystics talk of becoming one, but the fact remains there is still, after the event, the mystic who talks, he or she still retains the idea of self, even if that self-awareness is radically altered.)

So to have a union of two things, there must be a common ground. And that common ground must exist in both as a principle of its own being for a union to take place.

So, in some way, a being must be able to relate to itself first, before it can relate to another, indeed, something with no sense of self cannot form relationships.

Three things are required:
That which knows,
That which is known,
That by which the knower knows the known.

In Christian parlance it is that whom we designate the Father who knows, and in the absence of anything else (creation hasn't happened yet) what the Father knows is Himself, which we designate the Son.

Thus the Father 'begets' the Son eternally, something akin to the way we beget the idea of ourselves at every given moment. The difference being we are contingent beings who forget, or distort, or are subject to all manner of errors of assumption about who and what we are.

But God, according to our definition, is perfect, so not only does He know Himself perfectly, but what He knows of Himself is what He is, without any contingent limitation or distinction between the two.

Except that the one issues from the other, and there is necessarily, for the sake of our sanity, a priority, nothing can be known without first something to know it, so the Father is prior to the Son, and yet the Father is not in any way other than the Son, for the Son is everything the Father is, being everything the Father knows about Himself, not only objectively, but subjectively, for the two coincide.

So the Son, who is the perfect and absolute totality of the Father's self-knowledge, possesses the Father's self-knowledge itself, because God's knowing and God's being is one. God knows what He is (Father), and is what He knows (Son).

The Spirit is the slippery one, 'the Anonymous One' as one of my lecturers put it. The Spirit is the knowing, and as in God knowing and being are the same, the Spirit is God, as the Father is God, as the Son is God; the Three are One.

+++

We cannot know God. We can speculate on the matter, but that's all. The only way we can know God, is if God makes Himself known to us.

So we say God 'speaks' to us, indirectly through the things He has made, and directly through His self-disclosure in Revelation — it is 'revealed' precisely because it is not accessible to the intellect in any manner other than a disclosure from above.

God is beyond all human comprehension. God is a Mystery.

God speaks to us, we believe, in the Christian Tradition, to draw us to Himself, but not only to Himself, but into Himself. Towards a union that is as close to Himself as He is to Himself.

That we might know Him as He knows Himself.

"Now we see Him through a glass and darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12.

"Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2

To see Him as He is, must be to see Him as He sees himself. This is what is meant by Union, by participation in the interior life of God. A Trinitarian life, because without relation, there can be no union. The many cannot become one.

Thomas
 

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Hi Thomas,

Thank you for all this elucidation. With or without the differing terms I think I can see some commonality with what you explain, but of course some differences. The Divine Union reminds me perhaps of the Two Truths...
Each tradition needs a translating dictionary I think, to talk to "others" in other traditions.

Here endeth my derail.:rolleyes:

s.
 

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In my view it's not so much a claim to propprietary truth, but rather a claim to pursue the meaning of truth to its ultimate limits. As some Christian metaphysicians have put it, if the many religions are like the raidal points of a circle, then Christianity stands at the hub of the wheel.

What I see mostly (and not necessarily in your own thought) resents that claim, by any tradition, is the claim is disputed on the grounds of a late-modern romantic notion of egalitarianism.Thomas

The idea of Christianity as the hub of the wheel of religion goes too far for me, and would go too far for many other people who don’t see their traditions as somehow incomplete or falling short. Is that resentment? Well, there might be some of that among the formally colonized. But in the main these kinds of Christian claims merely come across as a kind of metaphysical boorishness, which do little more than incite similarly boorish claims of Christianity’s rivals.

To take an Indian example, as is my wont (it just makes sense to me – the Abrahamic & the Indian are so wonderfully parallel, so wonderfully opposite), rather than feeling an intrinsic inferiority an Indian might feel – and certainly often did in the past – that his native traditions lacked the zeal and social dynamism of the Christians. So we saw generations of Indians in the 19th and first part of the 20th century trying to become good little Englishmen, not because Englishmen and their European compatriots had discovered the most satisfying delineation of the absolute, or had definitively worked out the relationship between man & God, the finite & the infinite. No, it was because the beef-eating Englishmen were bigger, stronger, had more efficient armies, technologies and social organisation; in short, they were the winners.

There’s the amusing if sad story of Gandhi himself trying to eat beef (and finding he couldn’t) and he certainly had his good little Englishman phase. But his invention of Satyagraha with its core notion of ahimsa is most telling. Ahimsa had been in the bloodstream of India for thousands of years. There was no conceptual need for him to blend in the non-violence of Jesus of the gospels into the mix. The lack was not conceptual but ideological. It was the moral fervour and militancy common to all Abrahamic religion that had no real counterpart in India. That’s what he needed to turn religious practice and yogic discipline into his version of liberation theology.

But I think there are two basic problems to sort out here. First, the problem of the conflation of Christianity with majority Christian political powers. I don’t think you would maintain that Christianity in itself made Englishmen successful imperialists, as many Indians in the day might have assumed. You might claim that Christianity made the empire more compassionate; at the very least, you would acknowledge that the relationships between religion & empire was not simple. Apologists tend to give Christianity credit for everything that has gone right with Western civilisation while discounting all blame for all that has gone wrong. The enemies of Christianity maintain the reverse. We honest folks – you and I – would admit that Christian ideology has gone through endless transmutations, has been a driving force through the centuries and has been many-sided in its effects.

But there’s another problem of conflation you probably don’t agree with me on, and that’s the problem of conflating ultimate meanings with religious systems, whether in their social, ideological, organizational or theological aspects. For example, the idea that the crucifixion represents some ultimate expression of non-duality. In my view non-duality points to a fundamental condition that is always present (like God you might say). The idea that there is some single culturally & historically bound way to express this condition seems contradictory, i.e., how can a single bounded signifier ever adequately & exclusively represent what is unbounded and beyond signification? (And it doesn’t matter how complex a symbolic system you substitute here; it will always be limited in the face of the absolute.) As you probably know, the Zen folk call this mistaking your finger for the moon.

Now as I’ve said it’s reasonable to contrast & compare and even to make value judgements about analogous concepts, symbols or markers. You might compare Christian negative theology with Buddhist perfection of wisdom, look at the social or philosophical ramifications of each and make claims that given a particular set of conditions one seemed more useful than the other. You might compare Jesus on the cross with the Buddha under the bo tree, and have your reasons for preferring one over the other. But to claim one or the other as the ultimate expression of non-duality - that I feel is a sectarian and not a logically founded claim.

But it’s interesting to see how often we circle back to our founding assumptions. From the outset Abrahamic religion positively demands that we conflate its specific language (word by word, number by number) with God’s unitary script, the one key to the kingdom. Somewhere above you criticize other approaches to God as being mere techniques, but what is this exclusivist claim of Christianity but the positing of a special technology for salvation, rigorously demanding machinery essential to human happiness?

Of course I circle back to my own starting assumptions as well. I’ve already said that no symbol, symbolic system or historical process is adequate to representing reality in the ultimate sense. But the other side of this is that this reality is everywhere and everywhere available. If essentially the points of entry are few – the various yogas east & west – culturally they are innumerable, as they should be given the grand variety of human beings. Call it God’s grace. Yes, once again, pluralism.

Again this is the hard nub of difficulty with Abrahamic religion, which may never be transcended. You’ve pointed out quite rightly that Christianity represents a transformation of Mosaic Law through the gospel of love. I agree that’s plainly in the text. But can we really say that the old dispensation, the old rulership of God has been overcome? Consider that Christianity brings in not only the gospel of love, but also institutes Abrahamic religion as an ideology, specifically in the creeds and in the coercive church apparatus that followed. We do well to remember just how novel a development this was. Before Christianity the bible was safely held in the embrace of a people, a specific ethnic group. After Christianity the bible became the universal mother of radical ideology.

(continued below)
 

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(continued from above)
Further consider the history of Christianity. Thank Jesus the gospel of love survived. But if the gospel of love had truly overturned the old authoritarian ideology of the rulership of God someone should have told the Christians! I won’t go through the usual list. But the usual defence that Christianity was simply misused by political forces or human frailty begs the question. When ideological warfare dominates so much of church history it seems strange to suggest that there is no intrinsic relationship, particularly since the old ideological virus is there to be read in the text, right beside and running through the gospel of love. (I’m hardly qualified to get into a verse-swapping contest, but you know better than I how careful the gospel writers were to tie the life of Jesus to biblical prophecy, with all the baggage that entails, the frequent threats underlying the promise of forgiveness. To read the New Testament exclusively as a gospel of love may be good practice as a Christian but it wouldn’t appear to do full justice to the text.) But was it the gospel of love that finally ended the religious wars of the West? I would suggest it was far more the result of secular authorities asserting control, and of secular intellectual culture supplanting old Christian ideologies with newly invented Christian but secular heresies, i.e., rational utopianism, the myth of progress, nationalism, German idealism, socialism, communism, etc.

Now I hope I haven’t ranted on too long on this or turned shrill. I was only trying to answer some of your arguments as clearly as I could.

Let me try to conclude on a more positive note. Since I rant on so much about radical ideology I might be easily misunderstood. The simple definition of ideology I prefer is that set of ideas that fixes authority in a given culture or society. A conventional ideology is kind of go-along-get-along in nature; it tends to follow natural power relationships in a society and to intervene only when necessary, and to be intellectually diffuse, cobbling together whatever seems to work. A radical ideology seeks to radically remake society following a much more limited set of notions, which it may call transcendent, abstract or scientific. (I’m sorry if this comes off as tedious or too obvious; I just want to make clear how I’m using these terms.)

So while radical ideologies are tremendously dangerous, they’re also highly creative; our world would not have come into being without their effects.

But why is the radical ideology found in the bible so unique? The usual way of describing the achievement of the bible is to see it as a progressive purification of the idea of God, taking it from tribal to universal in scope, i.e., the invention of monotheism. But this I think totally misses the point. Other traditions have purified the idea of God or ultimate reality and arrived at the universal, thank you very much. In fact, I believe other traditions, the Indian, even the Tao of the Chinese, are more pure in that unlike the Abrahamic their absolutes do not derive from an old creator/warrior god – a derivation the Abrahamic faiths have never quite overcome.

No, the achievement of the bible was not the purification of God, his projection into the abstract, but the purification and the projection into the abstract of the idea of authority itself. This is the rulership of God I’ve been talking about. It was the genius of a minor people, living always in the shadow of empire, to counter the conventional ideologies, the false consciousness of those empires with an ultimate authority not of this world. It was a grand wish fulfillment but also a tremendous motivator and, when it was fully universalized by Christianity, a transformer of civilizations.

Now as I’ve said this radical ideology is double sided. It’s enlisted on the side of the underdog, whether the ancient Hebrews or the contemporary oppressed, but it also depends on rigid abstract authority that must always run through frail human interpretation. That’s why it can turn on a dime from being an ally of the oppressed to a fellow traveller of the powerful, turn from raving against the empire to serving it, turn from serving the dispossessed to merely serving the deranged.

In short, it is and has always been dangerous, and almost continually mis-used, but it’s a danger we can’t really do without. It’s part of our DNA. (Here’s where the new atheists are most off the mark, when they propose that eliminating religion will somehow eliminate, with some mopping up, radical thought and the irrational.) But it’s also a great achievement of the human spirit.

And here is where I would like to conclude on that promised positive note. As I’ve said before I appreciate the contact you display with the thought and importance of traditional Christian civilization. And here is where the important culture assumptions come in. While most creation myths begin with the human person in some fashion or another, the Abrahamic God is human in a very unique way (as any Jew will tell you, they’ve been wrestling with him for thousands of years). To people inside Abrahamic culture at least he seems more human than other gods for the fact that he is the god of history & radical ideology, of movement & action. Saying the right prayers and making the right offerings apparently isn’t enough! It begins with the opening lines of Genesis, doesn’t it? Here he combines impressively austere & remote absolute authority with a very human scale interest in his own handiwork and in the evolution of events.

So while you may feel I project upon you the notion of an innate disposition toward monotheism, you might agree to defend Abrahamic monotheism as a great achievement of the human spirit, a successful way to make the world a human place, perhaps most famously reflected in the Middle Ages, when the European world was in a sense fully rational, since logically deduced, step by step, from the axiomatic existence of a personal God. You may also agree that this is a monotheism that requires the severe discipline of the gospel of love in order to be safely understood and practiced.

But speaking of axiomatic, that’s only the half of it. Along with the humanizing ideology of the Jews was the humanizing rationality of the Greeks, another great achievement of the human spirit. Polar opposites in many respects, here Jews & Greeks combined to world-conquering effect.

So that’s the grand tradition, the great canon I see you in some part defending, and I respect that noble defence. My only caution, being a pluralist, is to say that we should keep in mind that there are also other great achievements of the human spirit, equally worthy of respect, that Greek as well as Jewish humanism has long since become part of the bloodstream of the world (despite the puny efforts of legions of (satanic!) theorists), and so no longer under our provincial control, and that, while preserving what’s best among the traditions we can no longer maintain the same universalist claims we held when the world was so much smaller and we knew so much less of others.

Vimalalkirti
 

Vimalakirti

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But then is 'intelligence' and 'person' just a byproduct of the process (as some argue) ... a side-effect, as it were?

The question is, if not, why does it produce intelligence and person-hood, and if this is not a random event with no intrinsic meaning beyond itself, then does the univwerse possess a rational and self-reflective nature? And if the universe does possess a rational and self-reflective nature, which it realises in what it effects, then that must stand beyond what it effects, and what is effected is done so according to a rational end.


It is a solution to the problem of contingency and of being as such. A self-causative universe does not really make sense to me.

Thomas

Again, my position is that these kinds of rational arguments, while they may be of intellectual interest, only carry weight for believers; they act as starch in the laundry of monotheism, if that’s not too weird an image. At the base is the persistent mental/emotional disposition to the effect that “somebody must be running things”.

Take so-called “randomness”. We model this notion on our own experience. If we bend down to pick up a leaf, we call it a purposive act. If a gust of wind does the same, we call it random. And so we extrapolate. If there’s no god out there who exhibits human like traits of volition and purposive action then somehow the universe is “random” and without explanation. But from my perspective the universe is constantly explaining itself, scientifically, mystically and in every other way. And yes it’s luminous in its intelligence.

Now, as I said, my position can’t be logically justified either, but also rests on innate dispositions – not only you, but also any hard-nosed atheist will tell me so. (But isn’t it only proper humility to admit that we are each similarly limited?) But my point remains that the logical difficulties you pose for which a personal god is the answer only arise given certain fundamental dispositions. They are not inherent in the nature of things.

If you look at all the basic arguments for the existence of the personal god – I’m not posing as a scholar here, but you know the short list as well as I – they all boil down to the idea that the universe can’t explain itself, that the explanation must lie elsewhere. The argument from contingency may be the most direct on that score. Now like me you might have seen some of these nowhere debates between atheists and believers: The universe must have a creator!! But who created God!! Hurumph! Hurumpth! Of course we understand that it’s not simple cause & effect. It’s the notion that there must be a deeper level or different category of being, since again ordinary being seems to require that support. For believers that deeper level is the personal god.

But of course you also know that this basic distinction is widespread in traditional philosophy and religion, and there are many other versions of what that deeper being might entail or mean, and how it is to be accessed. For my part it’s not a question of seeking adequate explanation but of seeking adequate expression.

In your other post above, you go into some detail about the idea of unity from the Trinitarian perspective. It’s very interesting and fascinating in its own right and would bear comparison with Vedantic and similar approaches to this problem. Christianity has its contribution to make here, though I would caution against the commonly held prejudice that eastern thought always and everywhere emphasizes unity at the expense of the individual. It’s more complicated than that, with many more possibilities.

But personally I’m repeatedly drawn to Indian expressions of non-duality because while no more simple in the details they are more direct in basic expression and far better answer my core intuitions than does the kind of Christian theology you present here, which, for me at least, in the end only distracts, obscures & leads away from the direct experience of interest to me. For a person of my dispositions, that deeper level of being is so intimately entangled (quantumly?!) with ordinary experience as to be nearly indistinguishable – philosophical or theological distractions are to be entered into only when fully justified & should be exited at first light.

Vimalakirti
 

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Hi Vimalakirti —

Let me say that I enjoy your posts, and it's refreshing to discuss matters with someone without being drawn into opinion, polemics, propaganda and hand-bagging!

The idea of Christianity as the hub of the wheel of religion goes too far for me ... Is that resentment?
No, I don't think so.
But in the main these kinds of Christian claims merely come across as a kind of metaphysical boorishness
I thank you for your considered politeness. In the past, the evidence is clear that such a metaphysical position can, and did (and I'm sure still does) incite a Christian Suprematicism of which my Church has been guilty. Indeed, I am sure I have been, in my enthusiasms.

But I think there are two basic problems to sort out here. First, the problem of the conflation of Christianity with majority Christian political powers.
I do think that's a huge issue, but it's also a sideshow, a diversion, unless the thrust of the kerygma becomes deflected or diverted — I'm not saying that hasn't happened, nor that the results are insignificant, but really that doesn't alter the essential content of the keygma — the message.

For example, the idea that the crucifixion represents some ultimate expression of non-duality.
Well I'd have to ask what you mean by 'non-duality' in the context of the Cross. We don't see the Cross as representing that. We see it as unity, as solidarity, but not non-duality per se.

In my view non-duality points to a fundamental condition that is always present (like God you might say). The idea that there is some single culturally & historically bound way to express this condition seems contradictory, i.e., how can a single bounded signifier ever adequately & exclusively represent what is unbounded and beyond signification?
The Incarnation is not God as such, for the Incarnation is a Hypostatic Union of human and the divine. Rather, the Incarnation re-presents that 'fundamental condition' in human form ... I see no impediment that prevents God from communicating through contingent forms, be they ideas, words, silences, persons ... but the emphasis is upon how God relates to man, and how man relates to God.

But can we really say that the old dispensation, the old rulership of God has been overcome?
Interesting question. If we say the Old Dispensation is the Word spoken by God to Israel; the New Dispensation is that Word become Incarnate — it's 'new' only in that sense — and in the sense that it alters the nature of the relation, reveals it in a more profound and mysterious way, but God is still God, man is still man, in that sense nothing has changed.

+++++++

To read the New Testament exclusively as a gospel of love may be good practice as a Christian but it wouldn’t appear to do full justice to the text.
Really? I think quite the reverse. I think any other reading is a disservice to the message, and the Messenger.
The Cross is about love. That's all it's about.

In fact, I believe other traditions, the Indian, even the Tao of the Chinese, are more pure in that unlike the Abrahamic their absolutes do not derive from an old creator/warrior god – a derivation the Abrahamic faiths have never quite overcome.
You're assuming the Creator God is a concept that needs to be overcome. I, of course, do not agree with that assumption.

but the purification and the projection into the abstract of the idea of authority itself. This is the rulership of God I’ve been talking about.
I know, but this is not what Christianity is talking about, that's my point. And your references to cultural radical ideologies only muddies the waters ... the very real risk is anthropomorphising God by the example.

If anything, I would say the 'radical ideology' of the New Testament is suffering and silence ... humility and detachment ... it is utterly anti-authoritarian, as Christ is found alays on the side of the 'underdog'.

Saying the right prayers and making the right offerings apparently isn’t enough!
Well if the prayer is right, and the offering is right, then it is enough. The parable of the publican, or the widow, is evidence of that.

It begins with the opening lines of Genesis, doesn’t it? Here he combines impressively austere & remote absolute authority with a very human scale interest in his own handiwork and in the evolution of events.
Here agaiin I see you reading into the text — I don't read God as any of those predicates in Genesis.

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For the Christian, Scripture is an encounter with Christ. It brings man face to face with the Cross in its physical, spiritual, metaphysical, implication.

Thomas
 
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